Legal opinions

In my first report from the public hearing on the frack ban, I was able to write a few sentences about the legal opinions being provided to the City Council, one from former Texas Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips and the other from Jordan Yeager, at Curtin & Heefner.

Grab a cup of joe and see for yourself how different legal minds see the city’s battle to police what happens in its boundaries.

Phillips opinion

Yeager opinion

Frack ban: Flyers, flyers everywhere

Residents both in and outside of Denton reported receiving flyers about Denton’s vote tomorrow night on the proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing. (This is in addition to reports that residents are being asked to sign a plebiscite petition that ostensibly opposes the ban, although an increasing number of residents tell us they were mislead by the petition workers about the meaning of the petition.)

Here’s a copy of what’s shown up on Denton doorsteps.

The website registration for Clean Resources has been made private, but the group likely has ties to the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council (BSEEC), a longstanding industry-funded effort. A handful of people from Fort Worth came sporadically to Denton City Council public hearings in the past few years and identified themselves as being from Clean Resources before stating their opposition to revised oil and gas development rules. The director of BSEEC, Ed Ireland, served on the city’s task force in the re-writing of those rules.

In addition, mineral owners in several nearby cities report receiving this letter in the mail, urging them to come to the Denton City Council meeting Tuesday.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. The city staff are preparing for a crowd. Here is an advisory to help if you plan to attend.

Call to local royalty owners

Denton resident Shirley Price called me to say that she’d received a letter from the Texas Royalty Council urging her to call her city leaders to oppose the proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing.

The public hearing on the ban is expected during the Denton City Council’s July 15 meeting.

Price called because she had not seen mention of the council’s letter in our story about the latest petition in town seeking support of fracking.

The letter, which is posted on the council’s website, suggests that Denton may not be legally able to hold the frack ban election under its city charter. The letter also suggests a court injunction against such an election was possible. Neither the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Associations nor the many attorneys I have visited with have suggested this possibility.

For the record, the relationship between the longstanding TIPRO and the royalty council is unclear. The oldest entries on the council website date to 2008 — a little post-Barnett Shale boon, and more at the start of the Eagle Ford rush.

Price thought Denton mineral owners were getting these letters regardless of where their holdings were. She has holdings in Montague County. As such, a ban in Denton wouldn’t affect her mineral income.

The way the letter is written also makes it difficult for the reader to keep other facts straight. Denton’s proposed ban is not on drilling, but on fracking. The recent Dryden decision shows the argument over a city using its local powers to regulate (zoning, public health and safety) as a “regulatory taking” is far from settled.

The connection between a frack ban in Denton and local job loss is likely tenuous, since no oil and gas companies are based here. The connection between a frack ban in Denton and higher taxes is also tenuous, since both the city’s and school’s property tax base are far more diversified. In many meetings, I’ve watched the city staff plan for the obsolescence in mineral wealth at the airport.

Given the lack of transparency in the state budget, a claim about the impact on tuition needs to be examined for its full effects. The UNT System doesn’t have property holdings like UT. Some of the state’s severance tax goes into the rainy day fund, the rest goes into the general fund, which helps fund higher education.

As a call to action, Price told me she could appreciate the letter’s stance. I found it interesting that she also said that she didn’t think there should be fracking in the city limits, especially with emerging science on its impacts to drinking water and earthquakes.

Troubling testimony about child, adult protective services

I listened to most of the testimony during the Sunset Advisory Commission’s public hearings Wednesday to prepare for today’s report on the state supported living centers.

I heard testimony about other facets of human services in Texas during the course of the day — testimony from families whose cases revealed a troubling lack of accountability in the Department of Family and Protective Services.

A woman and her two sons testified to their year apart when a caseworker removed all of the woman’s children after one of her adoptive children died. The woman told the Senate panel that she agreed to take in her sister-in-law’s young children, who she thought were neglected. After they came into her care, she learned the true extent of their abuse, but the caseworker and the department did not come to her aid, she said. When one of the children died from complications of the abuse, the caseworker returned to remove all the children. The sons testified to the sexual abuse they suffered in the care of foster families and the mother testified to spending all her savings in order to get her children back.

By the end of the family’s testimony, an agency representative was at the table with them and acknowledged the commission members’ call for an internal and criminal investigation.

Commission members also called for the Texas Rangers to investigate after hearing testimony from several families about guardians-for-hire. Those families testified that after a complaint or dispute with Adult Protective Services, a new guardian would be appointed, limit the family member’s access and, over time, drain the loved one’s estate.

Nelson called those rounds of testimony “discouraging.”

Both days of testimony were broadcast on the web and are available online at

Better Block project needs volunteers

A few months back, I reported on a new initiative in Denton to help boost neighborhood revitalization.

The city has selected the Sherman Drive neighborhood, around the old Piggly Wiggly store, for its first living charrette.

On his blog, Council member Kevin Roden called it a “great area with tons of eager neighbors nearby ready to see that area pop with creative neighborhood services, better streetscape, and improved biking and walking accessibility.”

Residents have planned the charrette for Saturday morning, June 28, and will be building the pieces they need for it on Thursday and Friday.

It looks like a lot of fun: pallet furniture, a hay bale “splash park,” pop-up shops and a street repair workshop.

Volunteers need to sign up this week, so that organizers can better plan for the event. Go here to sign up.

If you want to learn more about Better Block in general, visit

Drowning victim’s body recovered

From staff writer Bj Lewis:

The body of 38-year-old Michael Quach was recovered early Wednesday morning.

Capt. Cliff Swofford, a state game warden, said the body was found at 6:20 a.m. west of the marina in Hidden Cove Park.

He had been missing since Sunday.

“The body rose last night and floated to the inner cove,” he said.

Swofford said the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office has taken possession of the body and everybody is clear of the lake now.

Quach, of Melissa, jumped out of a boat to help his nephew, who was panicking in the water. Quach wasn’t wearing a life jacket and never made it back to the boat.

Crews from The Colony and Lewisville fire departments assisted state personnel in the search.

Quach’s wife, Brianna Mann, and several other members of the family had been at Hidden Cove Park since he went missing. Quach had been on a Father’s Day boat outing with his wife, two children and other family members when he went missing.

Little Elm High School not on lockdown, students detained

Two students were detained after a morning altercation at Little Elm High School, according to a Little Elm school district official.

A student was poked in the hand with a plastic utensil from a school cafeteria by another student, according to the district. Both students were detained and the student injured was treated and sent back to class while the other student was taken into custody.

“Rumors circulated that the school was placed on lockdown, however that was never the case,” Julie Zwahr, a district spokeswoman wrote in an email. “The campus was never evacuated and class continued on regular schedule.”

EagleRidge re-working well at Acme Brick

We received this press release from the city at about 4:45 p.m. today (it follows several tweets from @DentonPD last night):

City staff has been notified that EagleRidge Operating, LLC will re-work the Acme Brick D 3H well. The work is being done to unplug a potentially clogged pipeline. Workover rig equipment and an enclosed flare unit will be set up to complete the short-term operation. EagleRidge estimates the work will take two to three days.

The Acme Brick D 3H well is included in the Standstill Agreement negotiated between the Denton City Council and EagleRidge.

Questions or complaints regarding gas wells may be directed to the 24-hour Gas Well Hotline at (940) 349-8GAS (8427).

Taking a stab at political media criticism through the lens of a fake Twitter account

On my desktop next to a well-worn copy of Webster’s, an English-Spanish dictionary and the AP Stylebook, I keep two books from journalism school. One is my first textbook on news reporting and writing that’s sweetly out of date (when you look at the photos), yet timeless in the fundamentals of our discipline. The other is Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, to remind me that the “medium is the message,” “in the name of progress our official culture is forcing the new media to do the work of the old,” and other stuff like that.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, which I know some of you who are reading this now may not follow. (I always keep that in mind, as well as the fact that scores of our newspaper readers and many of our website readers may never see this blog post either. Rest assured, non-Twitter-users, you don’t have to get an account to gain an understanding of what you can learn from this interesting and compact forum, you can simply read the messages on the “Twitter fall” in the middle of our website. But I digress.)

In early April, I stumbled on a fake Twitter account @johnryandenton (we’ll see how long this link lasts). The “art” is funny, and the satirical tweets made me laugh out loud more than once. Having been on Twitter for a while now, I knew they weren’t likely coming from Ryan or one of his supporters.

Ryan called today and we chatted about it. He confessed he wasn’t up on Twitter, and then proceeded to share what he’d figured out (who’s following, including who followed first, and who’s interacted with the anonymous writer), which I thought was plenty insightful for someone who had just waded in … and I think there’s a good reason for that which I’ll get into in a second.

I brought up the existence of this fake Twitter account to his opponent, Glen Farris, last night before the Denton Neighborhood Alliance forum and he did a good job keeping his poker face.

Ryan hasn’t lost his sense of humor over it, but he also told me he intended to contact Twitter and ask them to remove the account. The fake account may be harmless fun, or it may be an example of using the new media (Twitter) to do some old work (a whispering campaign).

Social media is supposed to be democratizing in its ability to give access to powerful communication tools that used to belong only to the elite. In j-school, we were reminded frequently and loudly and soul-searchingly about the responsibilities that come with access to barrels of ink. (Occasionally, I share cautionary Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, Lulu, et al, tales to my now-grown children to encourage them to be mindful of their decisions in those spheres, kind of like how I made them read the police blotter occasionally when they were teens. But I digress again.)

As McLuhan wrote, “the only sure disaster would be a society not perceiving a technology’s effects on their world, especially the chasms and tensions between generations.”

Some food for thought as this spring political season races to the finish line.

Push polling the frack ban petition and affinity for Ted Cruz

A number of Denton residents have reported on social media, the Frack Free Denton blog and to Sharon Wilson (who blogged about it here) that they are getting phone calls from a blocked California number about the initiative petition.

(Just now hearing that longtime residents have organized a petition to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city? Get up to speed here.)

I visited with Ed Soph yesterday and he said he got such a call early last week. He said the questions were odd. “If you knew the frack ban would raise property taxes …,” “If you knew it would lower property values …,” “If you knew it was sponsored by UNT students who didn’t even live in Denton …”

The pollster, who would not identify who they were working for, also asked Soph if he liked Ted Cruz and what he thought of the new University of North Texas president.

Soph said he couldn’t make sense of the questions, particularly the one about Senator Cruz, but could tell they weren’t meant to elicit his opinion.

I’ve started poking around campaign finance reports at the state and federal level, since I believe that state law would require such reporting such expenses under the umbrella of a specific-purpose committee.

Meanwhile, I think it’s important for Denton residents and voters to become familiar with push polling techniques, which have nothing to do with polling at all.

Russell D. Renka, professor of political science at Southeast Missouri State University, wrote a paper in 2010 about the different kinds of polling techniques. In it, he shows how push polls are simply a dirty campaign practice.

These dirty campaign practices masquerade as legitimate polls.  They are not inquiries into what respondents truly think.  Traugott and Lavrakas (2000, 165) define them as “a method of pseudo polling in which political propaganda is disseminated to naive respondents who have been tricked into believing they have been sampled for a poll that is sincerely interested in their opinions.  Instead, the push poll’s real purpose is to expose respondents to information … in order to influence how they will vote in the election.”  Asher (2001, 19) concurs:  “push polls are an election campaign tactic disguised as legitimate polling.”  Their contemporary expression through automated telephone calls led Mark Blumenthal of Mystery Pollster to call them “roboscam,” meaning an automated voice asks respondents to indicate a candidate preference, followed by a scathing denunciation of the intended target (Blumenthal 2006a, Mystery Pollster – RoboScam: Not Your Father’s Push Poll, 21 February 2006).  After a couple of attack-statements, it’s on to another number, hitting as many as possible for sake of maximizing the damage to the intended political target.  That, of course, is not real polling at all, which explains why Blumenthal shuns the very term “push poll” for these.

     Legitimate polling organizations universally condemn push polls.  The National Council on Public Polls has shunned them since they masquerade as legitimate queries yet are intended to sway rather than discover the opinion of respondents (NCPP 1995, A Press Warning from the National Council on Public Polls).  So has the American Association for Public Opinion Research, which recommends that the media never publish them or portray them as polls (AAPOR 2007, AAPOR Statement on Push Polls).  Push polls are propaganda similar to negative advertising.  They are conducted by professional political campaign organizations in a manner that detaches them from the intended beneficiary of actions taken against a rival (see Saletan 2000, Push Me, Poll You in Slate Magazine).  Some political interest groups also use them, often in a hot-language campaign to raise money and membership by using scare tactics.  No matter the source, they treat their subjects with contempt. — from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Public Opinion Polls”

I’ll keep working on it and keep you posted. Keep me posted, too. I’d like to hear from people who get the calls about their experience.